Roubiliac - Encyclopedia

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ROUBILIAC (more correctly [[Roubillac), Louis Franccois]] (1695-1762), French sculptor, was born at Lyons and became a pupil of Balthasar of Dresden and of N. Coustou. It is generally stated that he settled in London about 1720, but as he took the second grand prize for sculpture in 1730, while still a pupil of Coustou, it is unlikely that he visited England at an earlier date. The date 1744, as given by Dussieux, is incorrect. He was at once patronized by Walpole and soon became the most popular sculptor in England, superseding the success of the Fleming Rysbraeck and even of Scheemakers. He died on the 11th of January 1762, and was buried in the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Roubiliac was largely employed for portrait statues and busts, and especially for sepulchral monuments. His chief works in Westminster Abbey are the monuments of Handel, Admiral Warren, Marshal Wade, Mrs Nightingale and the duke of Argyll, the last of these being the first work which established Roubiliac's fame as a sculptor. The statues of George I., Sir Isaac Newton, and the duke of Somerset at Cambridge, and of George II. erected in Golden Square, London, were also his work. Trinity College, Cambridge, possesses a series of busts of distinguished members of the college by him. Roubiliac possessed skill in portraiture and was technically a master, but lived at a time when his art had sunk to a low ebb. His figures are frequently uneasy, devoid of dignity and sculpturesque breadth, and his draperies treated in a manner more suited to painting than sculpture. There are, however, noteworthy exceptions, his bust of Pope, for example, reaching a high standard. More often, however, his striving after dramatic effect detracts from repose of attitude.

His most celebrated work, the Nightingale monument, in Westminster Abbey; a marvel of technical skill, is saved from being ludicrous by its ghastly and even impressive hideousness. On this the dying wife is represented as sinking in the arms of her husband, who in vain strives to ward off a dart which Death is aiming at her. The lower part of the monument, on which the two portrait figures stand, is shaped like a tomb, out of the opening door of which Death, as a half-veiled skeleton, is bursting forth. The celebrated bust of Shakespeare, known as the Davenant bust, in the possession of the Garrick Club, London, must be attributed to Roubiliac. The statue of Shakespeare, a commission from David Garrick, and bequeathed by the actor to the English nation, is in the British Museum, and shows the talent of the sculptor in a flattering light. It is noteworthy that none of his work is recorded in France, the land of his birth and education.

See Le Roy de Sainte-Croix, Vie et ouvrages de L. F. Roubillac, sculpteur lyonnais (1695-1762) (Paris, 1882). (An extremely rare work, of which a copy is in the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London.) Allan Cunningham, The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, vol. 3, pp. 31-67 (London, 1830) - the fount of information of later biographies. Dutton Cook, Art in England (" A Sculptor's Life in the Past Century") (London, 1869); Austin Dobson, The Magazine of Art, " Little Roubiliac," vol. 17, pp. 202 and 231 (London, 1894). See also J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times (London, 1829 passim). Henry B. Wheatle y has also devoted research to the work and life of Roubiliac. (M. H. S.)

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